MWD0701: Log Management with ELK

elk_logo

In our series around modern web development, I’d like to touch on a vital component in the production pipeline, sitting in the area of debugging and monitoring (the MWD07 chapter), and that is Log management. Too often is this overlooked by most seasoned developers and dev managers, and that’s a real shame, because at all stages of the application life cycle Logs are a goldmine!

Obviously first and foremost for debugging purposes, at development and testing stages. But also later on, and once the application is in production, for performance monitoring, bug fixing purposes, and simply for usage analytics. There are a lot of logs available in a web stack, not to mention those that you will create and populate ad hoc for the verbose logging and overall auditability of your application: System logs, web server logs (access and errors), database logs, default framework-level logs (such as those you’ll get in Zend framework or Symfony for instance in the PHP arena), postfix and other mail logs, etc. All these deserve proper handling, rotation, storage and data-mining.

In my past life in agency-land, I had the opportunity to play with a variety of web log analysers such as AWStats, Webtrends and alike. I also used with reasonable success the community version of Splunk, and back then it seriously helped tracing back a couple of server hacks, but also providing custom stats around web campaigns to hungry marketers.

Now that I am working on one main web application with my current employer, I have been looking for a robust and sustainable solution to manage logs. And while looking along the lines of Logstash, a tool I used previously for a Java platform, I have discovered the new comprehensive solution now known as the ELK platform.

ELK stands for Elastic Search + Logstash + Kibana

Elastic Search has been around for a while, as a real-time search and analytics tool based on Lucene. Recently funded with a $70M C-round (press release), the company has undertaken the ambitious “Mission of Making it Simple for Businesses Worldwide to Obtain Meaningful Insights from Data”. Nothing less.

Logstash is this nice piece of software started 5 years ago, and maintained since then, by Jordan Sissel, a cheerful fellow developer also guilty some other nice nifty little utilities, such as the hand FPM. Logstash helps you take logs and other event data from your systems and store them in a central place. It is now commercially supported by ElasticSearch and Jordan Sissel has also joined the team.

And finally Kibana is a web fronted to visualise logs and time-stamped data. Produced by the vibrant Logstash community, and contributed in particular by early committer Rashid Khan, it is now commercially supported by Elastic Search as well, as the preferred visualisation and washboarding tool for Logstash and Elastic Search.

ELK_platform

So how does it work? Well the diagram above will give you the gist of it:

  • Logstash processes log files as inputs, applies codecs and filters to it (note the amazing Grok library used as a middleware for reggae patterns) and spits out output files, including specific support for Elastic Search.
  • Elastic Search consumes Logstash outputs and generates search indexes.
  • Kibana offers the user-friendly interface anyone expects to build business-enabling reports and dashboards.
Sample Dashboard in Kibana 3

Sample Dashboard in Kibana 3

To get the full picture of the solution, there’s probably no better preacher than the creator himself, Jordan Sissel, who has been a faithful contributor at PuppetConf for the last 3 years, check out these Youtube recordings:

Useful links:

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MWD0201: Setting up a Mac for development (update)

A few months ago, I had a first crack at this topic: How to set up your Mac for modern web development. If you are curious enough, you’ll find the blog post here. 8 months after, I have taken a few things on board, and I believe time has come for an update.

The full step-by-step document is available as a PDF attached (SettingupaMacforDevelopment_v1.1), but to summarise my take on this topic:

  • You need some basic utilities: OS enhancements, editors, network utilities.
  • You need Homebrew, the missing package manager for Mac OS X. And thanks to that, you will be able to install all the languages and tools you need
  • Finally you need the DevOps tools required for modern automation and deployment practices: VirtualBox, Vagrant and Docker

mac_setup

Once this all settled and dusted, you will be able to run a state of the art web development environment on you Mac, on a day to day basis.

With handy shortcuts defined in your .bashprofile file, you will be able to start and stop services as we need them. A typical list of aliases would be:

#adding aliases

# PHP-FPM commands

alias php-fpm.start=”launchctl load -w  usr/local/opt/php55/homebrew.mxcl.php55.plist”

alias php-fpm.stop=”launchctl unload -w /usr/local/opt/php55/homebrew.mxcl.php55.plist”

alias php-fpm.restart=’php-fpm.stop && php-fpm.start’

# MySQL commands

alias mysql.start=”launchctl load -w /usr/local/opt/mysql/homebrew.mxcl.mysql.plist”

alias mysql.stop=”launchctl unload -w /usr/local/opt/mysql/homebrew.mxcl.mysql.plist”

alias mysql.restart=’mysql.stop && mysql.start’

# PostgreSQL commands

alias pg.start=”launchctl load -w /usr/local/opt/postgresql/homebrew.mxcl.postgresql.plist”

alias pg.stop=”launchctl unload -w /usr/local/opt/postgresql/homebrew.mxcl.postgresql.plist”

alias pg.restart=’pg.stop && pg.start’

# NGINX commands

alias nginx.start=’sudo nginx’

alias nginx.stop=’sudo nginx -s quit’

alias nginx.reload=’sudo nginx -s reload’

alias nginx.restart=’nginx.stop && nginx.start’

alias nginx.logs.error=’tail -250f /usr/local/etc/nginx/logs/error.log’

alias nginx.logs.access=’tail -250f /usr/local/etc/nginx/logs/access.log’

alias nginx.logs.default.access=’tail -250f /usr/local/etc/nginx/logs/default.access.log’

alias nginx.logs.default-ssl.access=’tail -250f /usr/local/etc/nginx/logs/default-ssl.access.log’

alias nginx.logs.phpmyadmin.error=’tail -250f /usr/local/etc/nginx/logs/phpmyadmin.error.log’

alias nginx.logs.phpmyadmin.access=’tail -250f /usr/local/etc/nginx/logs/phpmyadmin.access.log’

# WebDEV shortcuts
alias webdev.start=’php-fpm.start && mysql.start && nginx.start && mailcatcher’
alias webdev.stop=’php-fpm.stop && mysql.stop && nginx.stop’

To conclude, the most important thing is to keep your webdev environment up to date on an ongoing basis.

Mac OS X updates

Visit the AppStore to check for OS level updates. Pay particular attention to XCode updates.

Homebrew updates

All brew commands are here: https://github.com/Homebrew/homebrew/tree/master/share/doc/homebrew#readme

List the installed packages

$ brew list

Update the formulas and see what needs a refresh

$ brew update

Now upgrade your packages, individually or as a whole:

$ brew upgrade

If your paths and launch files are set properly, you should be fine even with an upgrade of PHP, MySQL, Nginx or NodeJS.

Pear updates

Simply run this to get a list of available upgrades:

$ sudo pear list-upgrades

And then to implement one oft hem

$ pear upgrade {Package_Name}

Gem updates

All Gem commands are here: http://guides.rubygems.org/command-reference/

List the installed packages

$ gem list

List those needing and update

$ gem outdated

Then update gems individually or as a whole:

$ gem update

Node updates

Note itself should be updated with Brew on a Mac.

$ brew upgrade node

To update Node Package Manager itself, just run

$ sudo npm install npm -g

To list all packages installed globally

$ npm list -g

Check for outdated global packages:

$ npm outdated -g –depth=0

Currently the global update command is bugged, so you can either update packagers individually:

$ npm -g install {package}

Or run this script

#!/bin/sh

set -e

set -x

for package in $(npm -g outdated –parseable –depth=0 | cut -d: -f2)

do

npm -g install “$package”

done

Note that all global modules are stored here: /usr/local/lib/node_modules

Conclusion

Obviously this is a personal flavour which characterises web development based on PHP, MySQL and NodeJS. For other destination ecosystems (Java, Ruby, Python), you can probably adapt the documentation above to fit your needs and specific constraints. But the main ideas remain: Use Homebrew, Ruby Gem, PHP Composer and Node NPM as much as you can to install additional libraries and manage dependencies.

Other tools I may have covered are a log management platform (such as Splunk or ELK), error catching (such as Sentry), mobile application utilities (such as Cordova, Ionix, Meteor), or design utilities (such as Omnigraffle, Pixelmator, Sketch, Mindmapple). Not to mention a variety of handy cloud services.

Please let me know what you guys out there think about this!

MWD03 – Provisioning a local development stack

In the previous post, we set up the Mac workstation and got it ready for modern web development.
In this chapter, we’ll discuss the next key step in setting ourselves up the right way to develop a web application, and this is about creating and provisioning a development environment.
Using Linux is not a crime!
VMs are fantastic
If you are planning to create your app using PHP, Java, Python and or Ruby, then there are 90% chances you will do that on a Unix/Linux powered stack. Otherwise, you would go for Windows, and anyway things would not be very different.
Before we throw money through the window renting a server on the cloud, let’s be practical and consider the most obvious option, which is to leverage your own local workstation to setup a virtual environment. Note again that I advise against using platform ports of xAMP (Apache-MySQL-PHP) and there are a few good reasons for that, along the lines of consistency:
  • Operating system discrepancies (starting with file systems)
  • Software versions
  • Files and folder permissions
  • Stability
This said, the best thing to do is to provision a virtual machine which replicates as closely as possible the target production environment. For this end, we use a virtualisation platform like Virtual Box, as proposed in the previous article, and can install with it any preferred OS stack. Let’s assume a CentOS 6.5 64bits for the example, but it could be anything else, including a custom and home brewed VM.
Fortunately for us, instead of downloading the ISO at cents.org, and going through the full install process, ready made boxes are available on the web, and I can mention the following repositories:
My Vagrant is rich
My Vagrant is rich!
Vagrant is an amazing, accessible and free utility, and I hardly see how the modern web developer could ignore it. It allows them to create and configure lightweight, reproducible, and portable development and staging environments, with the exact combination of services and utilities I need for my project. And obviously I will consistently use and refer to Vagrant hereafter, as I am now using it both in my hobbyist and professional lives.
The basics for Vagrant are very well explained on the official site, here: http://docs.vagrantup.com/v2/getting-started/index.html
To install Vagrant, just visit the page and download the right package for your OS: http://www.vagrantup.com/downloads.html
Done, we are ready to provision our Linux stack for development (and possibly staging) purposes:
As I am a RedHat/Fedora/CentOS enthusiast, I go for a CentoS 5.5 64 bits stack, which I pick from the shelves of Vagrant Cloud (but could have been anywhere else): https://vagrantcloud.com/mixpix3ls/centos65_64
This one has been setup with the Virtual Box Guest additions (an I have a specific short article to help you out with upgrading your VB guest additions in case you update Virtual Box).
Let’s first create a working folder:
     $ mkdir ~/sandbox/my_project
     $ cd ~/sandbox/my_project
Now I initialise my local Linux stack:
     $ vagrant init mixpix3ls/centos65_64
=> This immediately create a local .Vagrantfile in your project folder, which you can freely edit and tweak to suit you need, as we will see later.
One thing you might like to immediately do though is to organise proper web port forwarding by inserting the following line in this .Vagrantfile:
 
config.vm.network “forwarded_port”, guest: 80, host: 8080
As you understand, this .Vagrantfile should later on be part of your GIT repository, as a way to share with your fellow developers what sort of server environment your app is supposed to run on.
For now, let’s just switch the Linux machine ON:
     $ vagrant up
 
It will take some time to download the gig of data corresponding to the image, just look at progress in your terminal window. But eventually your VM is up and running, and you can seamlessly SSH into it using the simple command:
     $ vagrant ssh
 
3 commands in total: Isn’t that amazingly straightforward?
In case you wonder where all this magic happens, beyond the 5kb .Vagrantfile stored in the project folder:
 
This is great but still a little bit bare bones for a web server, and we now have to continue provisioning the image at least with a web server and a database server.
Do you manual?
Do you manual?
The old dog and control freak in me can’t help, at least once, to do it the hard manual way, and that’s what it looks like:
$ sudo yum update # Careful because a Kernel update may ruin the Virtualbox Guest Tools
$ sudo yum install ntp
$ sudo service ntpd start
$ sudo rm /etc/localtime
$ sudo ln -s /usr/share/zoneinfo/Australia/Sydney /etc/localtime #properly set server time to this part of the world we love
$ sudo yum install nano # I need my fancy text editor
$ sudo yum install httpd # This is Apache, and you could choose Nginx or Tomcat
$ sudo service httpd start
$ sudo chkconfig httpd on
$ sudo nano /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf # Change Admin email
$ cd /etc/httpd/conf.d
$ sudo mkdir vhosts
$ sudo yum install php php-mysql
$ sudo yum install php-* # all extensions, because I can’t exactly tell which ones I need for now
$ sudo nano /etc/php.ini # Change Memory parameters
$ cd /var/www/html
$ sudo nano /var/www/html/phpinfo.php
$ sudo tar -jxf phpMy*
$ sudo rm phpMyAdmin-4.1.13-all-languages.tar.bz2
$ sudo mv phpMyAdmin-4.1.13-all-languages/ phpMyAdmin
$ cd phpMyAdmin
$ sudo find . -type f -exec chmod 644 {} \;
$ sudo find . -type d -exec chmod 755 {} \;
$ sudo mv config.sample.inc.php config.inc.php
$ sudo nano config.inc.php # Change blowfish secret
$ sudo rm -R setup
$ yum install php-mcrypt # these 2 lines are necessary to install MCrypt, and be able to deliver some reasonably serious work around cryptography
$ sudo yum install mod_ssl
$ sudo service httpd restart
$ sudo yum install mysql mysql-server
$ sudo service mysqld start
$ sudo mysqladmin -u root password ******
$ sudo chkconfig mysqld on
$ sudo yum install git
$ sudo nano /etc/conf/con.d/my_website.conf
$ sudo service httpd reload
Now just hit
=> http://127.0.0.1:8080/phpMyAdmin/ to access MySQL via PHPMyAdmin
=> http://127.0.0.1:8080 in your local browser, and you should see the magic happening, with the default Apache page.
It does not seem much, yet you might quickly spend 30min+ going through the above, if everything goes right and you do not inadvertently commit any typo.
Plus what you’ve just done, your fellow developers in the team would have to do it as well, as they VagrantUp their own local development environment: This is of course not acceptable.
One obvious and immediate countermeasure is to share the custom BOX we’ve just created with our peers via network or cloud storage. This is well covered by Vagrant here: http://docs.vagrantup.com/v2/boxes.html . Your peers would simply have to use the box add command:
$ vagrant box add my-box /path/to/the/new.box
$ vagrant init my-box
$ vagrant up
However, this is still a bit brute force and not fully flexible and future proof: What if I realise I need to add a specific service or configuration? I would have to update my box and to copy it again over the network for my peer developers, and moving around 1Gb of data is not the most elegant thing to do, is it?
Therefore we are looking for a more scripted and flexible way to provision our Linux stack on the fly.
In my next article, I will discuss a couple of simple enough yet professional solutions to provision your development environment in a robust and agile manner using either Chef or Puppet.
Next to MWD04 – Provisioning the stack with Chef

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MWD02 – Get the MAC workstation ready

Continuing this series about Modern Web Development!
As a non Microsoft Developer working on a Mac, you need to get yourself a few productivity tools which unfortunately are not all available out of the box on your Macbook or iMac.
STEP 1 – Starting with a few Mac OS X enhancements
Total Finder Features
The Finder: Even with the latest OS X 9 Mavericks update, the Finder still has some shortcomings, and in particular still lacks the ability to quickly switch display of hidden system files. My recommended solution for that is to switch to TotalFinder  that is US$15 well invested for your productivity. And it’s more lightweight and stable than the very ambitious Pathfinder (US$39)
Total Terminal
The Terminal: The native Mac terminal is OK, but not always easy to summon in context. To improve usability in that space, I have taken 2 actions: First, I have downloaded the excellent and free TotalTerminal utility from the same BinaryAge company publishing Total Finder. With its Visor feature, you can always summon the Terminal in context using CTRL+~, very handy. And secondly, I am leveraging the new service available in Mavericks which allows to open a “new Terminal tab at Folder”, as per instructions found here. Right-click any folder, select Services>Open Terminal, and here you go. A true game changer.
Textmate 2
Textmate 2A decent Text Editor: Textedit is definitely outdated, and I wonder when will Apple decide to give it a bit of attention span! In the meantime, the modern developer will invest in a Sublime Text or Textmate 2 license. My preference goes to the latter which has a much more comprehensive syntax library.
Other CLI developer tools:
Mac OS X native tools: First we need Mac native tools, which are not installed by default but usually come with Xcode. If you are not planning to develop Mac or iOS apps and do not need Xcode just yet, these tools can simply be installed by using the following command in Terminal: $ xcode-select —install or even simply $ gcc
This will trigger a dependency pop-up indicating that Xcode requires the CLI developer tools and offering to install them: Just click install and wait for 30min.
CLI Developers Tools
Java: Java is an important language, and unfortunately it is not available natively anymore in the latest releases of Mac OS X.
The current Java version recommended by Apple is 1.6 and it can be downloaded here.
If for some reason you need to work on Java 1.7, visit the official Java website, at your own risk:
Ruby and Python: Ruby and Python, two immensely popular object-oriented scripting languages, have been installed as part of OS X for many years now. But their relevance to software development, and especially application development, has assumed an even greater importance since OS X v10.5. And as a modern developer, in particular in the PHP space, you are likely to use Ruby scripts for automation and deploy on, with Composer, Capistrano and Chef for instance.
Ruby with HomebrewHomebrew  s a package manager for Mac and it helps installing additional services and utilities, that Apple didn’t, in an organised manner, managing symlinks into the /usr/local folder. Just like CHEF consumes recipes written in Ruby forserver provisioning, Homebrew consumes Ruby-written formulas to install software packages on your Mac.
To install Homebrew (Note a dependency on XQuartz)
$ brew doctor
To install Ruby with Homebrew:
$ brew install ruby
To manage the different versions of Ruby you may have on your system, use RVM:
$ \curl -sSL https://get.rvm.io | bash -s — –autolibs=read-fail
PHP Storm
STEP 2: Get a good IDE
PHP StormThere are several options on Mac and I can mention here the well know Eclipse (All languages), Coda 2(PHP), Netbeans (Java, PHP, C++) or Aptana Studio (PHP, …)
But my preference now clearly goes for the great and consistent suite of IDEs offered by JetBrains for the different languages:
  • IntelliJ for Java
  • PHPStorm for PHP => That’s the one I am mostly using (US$99 for a personal license)
  • Web Storm for general purpose HTML/CSS development
  • PyCharm for Python
  • Rubymine for Ruby
  • Appcode for iOS development
Atlassian Sourcetree
STEP 3: Source control with GIT
GIT is essential and mandatory, and what you need is the holy trinity: The command line on your workstation, a repository storage service, and a GUI client.
Mac OS X 10.9 comes with GIT 1.8.5 bundled, which is not the most recent version.
To upgrade GIT on Mac, the official GIT site proposes an installer.
Another option is to use Homebrew, with:
$ brew update
$ brew install git
This will get you the latest GIT, version 1.9.2 as I write these lines.
.
Source TreeIn terms of GUI, I enthusiastically recommend Atlassian Sourcetree, which by the way will come with its own version of GIT bundled in, for self-consistency purposes. (GIT 1.8.4 for Sourcetree 1.8.1). The desktop client for Mac proposed by Github is also a decent one.
.
Lastly, make sure you have an account on Github, offering public repositories only for the free account. For this reason, I urge everyone to consider Atlassian Bitbucket, which offers free accounts with illimited private repositories for teams of up to 5 members: It can’t get any better!
.
TransmitSTEP 4: Other essential network utilities
.
For FTP/SFTP and S3 access, I have found nothing better than Transmit 4 from Panic Software (US$34).
If you are after a completely free software though, you’d would fall back to Cyberduck 4. And finally, Filezilla has now enjoyed a decent port for Mac, but unfortunately lacks S3 support.
.
NavicatFor database connectivity, the “ned plus ultra” solution is Navicat  which offers connectivity to MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle, MS SQL Server, SQL Lite, MariaDB. Choose the Essential edition for US$16 only, or go pro with Navicat Premium ($239).
If you use exclusively MySQL, then Sequel Pro is the perfect and free solution. Likewise for PostgreSQL, simply use the Postgres.App.
.
.
Charles ProxyAlso, you need a web debugging proxy and the obvious choice here is Charles 3.9 (US$50).
Interesting to note though that Telerik is currently porting the remarkable Fiddler to Linux and Mac (Apha release).
.
STEP 5: Virtualisation software
First and foremost, I would strongly advise against setting up localk xAMP suites, such as MAMP and XAMP for Mac. It may look handy at first glance to run your Apache and MySQL servers locally, but it quickly becomes a pain in the back with compatibility issues, when you start using PHP and Apache extensions. Very messy and inaccurate.
.
Virtual BoxAccording to the idea that there is “nothing like the real stuff”, I urge any serious developer to work with locally virtualised environments replicating LIVE destination environments, whatever the operating system.
The best choice is to use Oracle Virtual Box, free and well supported.
Now you can manually install any of your favourite OS, and set your code folders as shared mount points.
.
VagrantBut the latest delightful trick to do so is to use Vagrant to flick up an environment in 1 command line and no time:
Download Vagrant for your system, and then in the terminal simply VargrantUP! You can select an image on Vagrant Cloud: https://vagrantcloud.com/discover/featured
$ cd /~/my_dev_folder // Putting yourself in the folder you intend to store your web app
$ vagrant init hashicorp/precise64  // Installing a standard Ubuntu 12.04 LTS 64bits box
$ vagrant up
$ vagrant ssh // You are logged in!
In just a few minutes, you are logged into your VM and can start setting up the services you need fort your app, starting with Apache, MySQL, PHP and more.

MWD01 – Embracing the evolving digital world

I have been coding and managing digital projects for the last 15 years, and this has already been through a number of evolutions, revolutions and complete paradigm shifts. Just listing a few areas to try to illustrate were I’m going here:

GITSource Control Management (SCM): aka CVS , Perforce, and ClearCase back in the days. Subversion had some glorious days, but over the pas few years the crowd has moved to GIT, made popular and ubiquitous by the amazing code sharing platform Github.  Git is a free and open source distributed version control system designed to handle everything from small to very large projects with speed and efficiency. It is easy to learn and has a tiny footprint with lightning fast performance. It outclasses other SCM tools with features like cheap local branching, convenient staging areas, and multiple workflows. It’s best suitable for distributed teams working in a peer to peer context and it is certainly the SCM of the decade, you can’t avoid it, even if you’ll keep an eye on emerging competitors like Mercurial.

Java - Php - MySQLOpen-Source Software: Long gone are the days when you’d pay for closed source software without a blink, with the double risk of getting ripped off with ongoing maintenance costs, and being locked into a technological dead end. Web technologies are experiencing a sort of Cambrian explosion on an incredibly short timespan. People try before they buy, they want to access source code to customise it and suit their specific requirements, share it with business partners to encourage interoperability. As a customer today you will happily pay for a service and a subscription rather than for the codebase, you will pay for advanced features and integration rather than for the core functionality. It is on the ground of such a need for interoperability and agility that the open-source model has grown and become mature including in the Enterprise Arena. It is true in all compartments: Operating systems with Linux distributions such as RedHat and CentOS, databases with MySQL and PostgreSQL, server-side languages such as RubyJava and PHP, content management frameworks such as Drupal or Alfresco, and it is just the beginning. “Start free and scale up with service and features” is the new motto in the global era, and far from just “open” and “free”, Open Source is a true guarantee for stability, security, interoperability, enterprise grade.

Symfony and ComposerDependency management: Along the lines of interoperability, we see a growing number of technologies built on top of large aggregations and third party dependencies, and this leads to an increasing interest in managing software packages, bundles, plug-ins, add-ons, … An iconic example in the CMS arena is WordPress which proposes the most comprehensive library of 3rd party plugins to address various needs and features, from simple contact form handling to broad scale e-commerce. At a lower level, this translates into component libraries for web applications frameworks such as Symfony (PHP best managed with Composer for instance) and Rails (Ruby best managed with Bundler), and down to languages themselves, with Pear and PECL repositories for PHP, and Rubygems for Ruby. This is now even investing the field of deployment automation with platforms like Capistrano, Vagrant and Chef.

MVCModel-View-Controller (MVC): MVC is the modern software pattern for implementing user interfaces in a scalable and future proof manner. It divides a given software application into three interconnected parts, so as to separate internal representations of information from the ways that information is presented to or accepted from the user. The central component, the model, consists of application data, business rules, logic and functions. A view can be any output representation of information, such as a chart or a diagram. Multiple views of the same information are possible, such as a bar chart for management and a tabular view for accountants. The third part, the controller, accepts input and converts it to commands for the model or view. It is clear that over the last 5 years all dominant and enterprise grade languages and application frameworks have quickly evolved towards the recognition of this universal and most desirable pattern: Java with Spring for instance, PHP with Symfony, CakePHP, Codeigniter, Yii and more, .NET with ASP.NET, Ruby with Rails. Even Javascript currently undergoes the same rapid evolution client side, with amazing and highly performing framework like Backbone, Knockout or the most recent Google AngularJS.

Web services and apisAPIs and web services: Going hand in hand with the MVC revolution, the emergence and silent multiplication of web services and public APIs (Application programming interface) on the web is staggering when you consider it: There’s a crowd of agents and open endpoints out there just waiting for you as a developer to leverage them and unleash their power within your application. Programmableweb maintains a directory of 11,000+ APIs, and they are not alone (here and here for instance). All world-class service providers offer their own, such as Google. APIs are driven by a set of specific technologies, making them easily understood by developers. This type of focus means that APIs can work with any common programming language, with the most popular approaches to delivering web APIs being SOAP and REST. REST with JSON has become the favorite of developers and API owners, because it is easier to both deploy and consume than other implementations. Even though REST + JSON is not a standard, it is now seeing the widest acceptance across the industry. Again, interoperability is the key driver here, and it is important to make sure your applications can consumer 3rd party web services, and expose new specific ones in the most robust manner. Online providers event specialise in the brokering of web APIs, like for instance Zapier, ElasticIO and Talend.

VirtualisationVirtualisation: I can’t really remember the last time I had to play with a real physical server on which I installed Windows or Linux to create a web hosting environment: It was probably more than 10 years ago, on a super expensive and rackable Dell pizza box. Since then, all my web hosting providers have been offering virtualised environments on mutualised hardware, and this has grown to a super massive scale lately with a pack of providers led by Amazon and including Rackspace, Digital Ocean, Brightbox and many others. As I write these lines, I have 4 different systems running on my Mac, for development and productivity purposes, courtesy of Vmware Fusion or Oracle Virtual Box: Beyons Mac OS X 10.9 as a main host, I have Windows 8.1 and 2 server flavours of Linux (CentOS 6 and Ubuntu 12). Virtualisation means versatility and cost efficiency, since anyone can now run a fully fledged web server from home for just a fistful of dollars.

Web-Scale ITCloud and web-scale IT: Cloud has been a buzz word since a few years now, but we are still hardly realising what it means in terms of volume, scale and commoditisation. Amazon has been pioneering this space and still largely leads it, allowing individual and businesses to fire up dozens of virtual servers and and run web apps anywhere in the world in just minutes, for competitive monthly charges based on consumption. What it really means is that IT infrastructure is not anymore the realm of super specialised engineers and techs, it is now almost completely commoditised, and we enter the age of what is called “Infrastructure as code”, where any mid weight dev-ops can fire up a world class architecture of undress of servers by simply running a shell script of a few lines: Literally scary!  New contenders in this market of IT automation and web-scale IT are AnsiblePuppetLabs, Docker and Chef for instance. And these guys are going to take the industry by storm over the next 2-3 years.

Monitoring UXUser Experience Optimisation: Last but not least, as the years 2000’s have been the decade of CMS, the current period is undoubtedly focused on better managing user experiences online, and that’s achieved through a variety of means, including HTML5 rich and device agnostic user interfaces, personalised and interactive content. But at the end of the day, this is only possible through an extremely granular monitoring of performance, instant capture of exceptions and errors, and fine grained analytics. Google is still a heavyweight in that space, and enterprise content management systems battle fiercely to stay visionary leaders (Sitecore Customer Engagement Platform, Adobe Experience Manager, SDL Tridion, …) However, from a developer perspective there are huge opportunities to create value in that space, through server side and client side monitoring of web apps. And a significant number of startups have invested that space, such as NewRelic, Sentry, FuelDeck. These are essential components to deliver optimised online experiences.

Next to Part 2 – Getting the MAC workstation ready